Roger Durling Reports from Cannes

SBIFF's Head Honcho Blogs While Working as Program Director for the Festival's American Pavilion

Roger Durling at work in the American Pavilion.
Carol Marshall

About five years ago, Roger Durling was named the head of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. In the years since, he’s elevated the festival to be one of the industry’s most exciting and star-studded. Earlier this year, Durling’s success was internationally recognized when the Cannes Film Festival – the world’s most prestigious gathering of filmmakers, actors, and everyone else – asked him to be the programming director for the American Pavilion, which showcases the best entries and talent from the United States. So Durling is there now, along with SBIFF’s Jeremy Platt as well as Carol Marshall and Alanna Kordell, from Carol Marshall PR.

For the past couple years, Durling has penned the “Big Picture” column for The Santa Barbara Independent, and he graciously accepted our invitation to relay his experiences at Cannes this month for When he returns at the end of the month, we’ll also be publishing an overview of his experience at Cannes in the printed edition of The Independent.

What follows is a selection of Durling’s blogging from Cannes through Monday, May 21, the entirety of which can be at Tune in later this week for more at

La Croisette, May 15

Today we got our badges for the Festival, and I cannot describe in words my excitement. The famous Croisette – the boardwalk – in Cannes is gorgeous. The festival does not start officially until tomorrow but the energy is here – very palpable.

So What Have You Been Doing the Past Few Weeks?, May 15

I’ve been pretty quiet, and some people have been wanting to know what exactly my job is here at the American Pavilion at Cannes. Basically, I have to help put together panels and conversations while the big Festival is happening. The line-up, which was released yesterday to the trades, consists of conversations with Michael Moore, Wong Kar Wai, Norah Jones, Harmony Korine, Rupert Everett, and Colin Firth, among many others.

If you’re a true film lover and like film festivals, then you must make it to Cannes at least once in your life. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can actually feel the film-geekness in the air. You could cut it with a knife.

The Pavilion is buzzing with excitement and students – everybody working hard to make the opening schedule of tomorrow morning.

The weather’s been spectacular. Sixty degrees and sunny. I had been hearing for months about how similar Cannes is to Santa Barbara – and yes, they’re right.

Am I still excited? Boy oh boy! I’m bursting with excitement. Tomorrow is opening night!!!!!!

Opening Day, May 16

So the Pavilion’s open. I have Jeremy Platt coming shortly to help me out, and two student interns under my charge also. The weather this morning couldn’t be better. The crowd around the red carpet across the Pavilion has already started arriving.

SBIFF's Roger Durling and Jeremy Platt at Cannes.
Carol Marshall

Tonight’s the hottest ticket. Even we are having a hard time getting in for the 7:30 p.m. opening film festivities. There’s a second viewing of the film at 11:30 p.m., and supposedly it’s easier to get into. Crazy, but fun! We’re in Cannes! The greatest film festival in the world!!!

Sunday Morning Shootout, May 16

The crew from Sunday Morning Shootout with Peter Bart and Peter Guber just arrived at the Pavilion. Loads and loads of reporters and journalists are walking around the room. Different languages and accents. Pretty darn cool. The Pavilion has a terrace overlooking the beach and the Mediterranean. Will somebody please wake me up? This is film festival Nirvana, film geeks!!!!

Old Europe Snubbed at Cannes, May 16

The list of movies in competition at the Cannes Film Festival makes for depressing reading for the old countries of Europe, especially if you discount French efforts, which have “home-field advantage” when it comes to selection. No British, Spanish, or Italian titles made the cut. And the one German title is a co-production with Turkey, with the Turks responsible for 60 percent of Fatih Akin‘s The Edge of Heaven.

Opening Night Blast, May 17

I have never seen an opening night like Cannes’. The red carpet is the biggest one I have ever seen in my entire life. It was an endless parade of stars and international directors, ranging from Jude Law to Catherine Deneuve, from Norah Jones to Wong Kar Wai. There were so many “paparazzi” and media outlets, it was insane. The coolest part is that everybody was dressed better than the Oscars: the men were all in tuxedos and women were so bejeweled it was blinding.

The Weinstein Company graciously gave me two tickets for the festivities, but I didn’t feel like going – I get overwhelmed at these things. I stood high on a platform looking down at the mayhem and eventually went with PR maven Carol Marshall to have a quiet dinner at a local creperie where we drank quite a lot. I gave my two tickets to Carol’s assistant Alanna and to my every faithful Jeremy Platt. They both dressed up in their Sunday’s best.

Carol Marshall and Alanna Kordell working the Cannes computers.
Jeremy Platt

The opening night invite was quite beautiful. The party was sponsored by Louis Vuitton. It started at 11 p.m. and continued until 5 a.m. I was told by Jeremy that it was quite a spectacle and a glamorous party!

I’m glad I went home early and rested. Excited about the upcoming days! It’s Cannes and the weather is awesome!

Gil Kenan Rules!, May 17

We just asked Gil Kenan to the director’s panel, and he accepted. Gil was nominated for the Oscar for his animated feature Monster House. He’s here in Cannes trying to raise funds for his new project. He was part of the director’s panel in Santa Barbara, and he was quite charming and funny. Peter Bart (editor-in-chief of Variety) approached me this morning about bringing him on board. Excellent!!!

Voulez Vous?, May 17

I have been practicing my French non-stop. It’s kinda rusty at the moment, but improving. Last night, I got to speak quite a lot over dinner. The waiter was quite impressed. I told him it was improving with every glass of wine. I lived in France in 1982 for an entire year, and became quite fluent. I don’t get the chance to practice. Mais, maintenant je pratique. Et je parle cette langue come une vache espagnole!

Cannes Dispatches, May 17

The festival is in full gear. Zodiac is playing in competition here at Cannes. If I have a favorite film I wish will win the Palme d’Or, it is this film.

Zodiac is a gem, but it was not fully appreciated when it opened in the U.S. Jake Gyllenhaal and the rest of the cast are here. When the film played this morning for the critics and the jury, the projector didn’t have the proper lens. The film was slightly distorted. Not cool at all.

Roger Durling and Alanna Kordell with <em>Variety</em>'s Todd McCarthy.
Carol Marshall

My apartment is in the outskirts of Cannes. It’s about a 45-minute walk, but what a walk. I have to walk on a long boardwalk by the Mediterranean, with plenty of sun and sea breezes. On the opposite side of the boardwalk, cafes and restaurants are lined-up all in a row with outside seating. One of these cafes is a creperie that makes galettes, which are a specialty from Brittany in the northeast section of France. They’re made out of whole wheat and they’re filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, etc. They’re awesome! Of course, they have dessert crepes too.

I’m heading out to see at 10 p.m. screening, so I must run! Jeremy has been planning our viewing schedule, and also our party schedule. I told him I will only go to handful of parties. But one of them has to be a formal party, so I can get to use my brand new tux!

Movies to See (or not), May 18

So far, I haven’t been impressed with what I’ve seen. Late last night I went to see a film called Control, a profile of Ian Curtis, the enigmatic singer of Joy Division whose personal, professional, and romantic troubles led him to commit suicide at the age of 23. The movie’s directed by Anton Corbjn, a well-known music video director whose worked with U2 and Depeche Mode. The best thing about the movie is the photography and the performances by Sam Riley as Ian Curtis and Samantha Morton as Curtis’ suffering wife. The same territory of this movie is tackled in 24 Hour Party People, which was directed by Michael Winterbottom . Somehow I was more haunted by the earlier film.

The other film I saw worth writing about was a modern version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, called Les Chansons d’Amour. The script is good. The music is terrible. Terrible. It ruins what could have been a very interesting movie. The best thing about seeing this movie was that I finally entered the venerable Palais where all the main movies in competition are show. This movie theatre is the iconic building here in Cannes, and the one you’ve probably seen whenever they show the red carpet at the Festival.

The people that run the movie showings are very strict. The movies start on the dot. They close the doors at the time the movie is supposed to commence and do not allow any latecomers. Audiences are extremely polite. No talking. Very serious cinephiles. The sound and projection quality are incredible. Imagine watching a movie at the Arclight in Los Angeles, quite the opposite of the Riviera Theatre in Santa Barbara.

Today, Norah Jones and Wong Kar Wai come to the Pavilion at 3 p.m. to do a conversation and to cut the ribbon officially opening our facilities. And later this evening, I will be going to a cocktail party being thrown by Lakeshore Entertainment.

On the subject of parties, there are simultaneous parties happening 24/7. The weekend’s about to start and things are going to get very intense. Yay! Have you guessed by my tone that I’m having a grand time?!!!

What’s Cannes Like?, May 18

This city is beautiful. It’s a beach resort. But at its center, there are so many commercialized restaurants and stores that it’s a bit of a turn off. It’s as if you were in Disneyland’s version of the South of France. At the fringes of the town, you do get a taste of the real French Riviera. Ask locals where they hang out – what restaurants to go to – and most will lead you towards the beach that connects downtown Cannes and the Bocca neighborhood. It’s a lovely stretch, and it has a more beautiful view than the beach in front of the downtown area.

Right now, things are so crazy at the Pavilion because there’s a mob that has shown up to see Norah Jones and Wong Kar Wai. My students at UCSB will remember how much I adore Wong Kar Wai, so I’m so excited to meet him. This is the director that helmed one of my favorite movies In the Mood for Love, and being in this French Riviera town during the film fest, I am INDEED in the mood for love.

The Mockingbird Has Arrived, May 18

Okay, so Norah Jones and one of my favorite directors Wong Kar Wai came in. They’re on the terrace doing their Q&A with John Powers, the film critic for Vogue magazine. I feel my job is done, so I’ve retreated to a quiet place to write this entry. Norah was very shy and sweet. Wong was extremely gracious and was especially nice to Jeremy. I’m a bit bummed out that my two interns, Joy Johnson and Charlie Haggard, didn’t get to meet them, since they both worked really hard to make this event happen. So one event on its way – and many more to go! It’s been a long day!

Tonight, cocktail parties and hopefully I will get to see a movie at 10 p.m. Au revoir, mes amis!

Beach Bods, May 18

I work out, so I look okay physically – nothing to crow about, but okay. But I would never have the cojones to wear a speedo on the beach. Here in Cannes, European men wear thongs! And they’re overweight and middle-aged! More power to them. They’re comfortable in their skin. When I go to the beach, I even have a hard time taking off my shirt. I need some of the Cannes self-esteem! Women – no matter what age – are topless. La vie en rose, you might say. Me, I’m more comfortable in the dark, watching movies, fully clothed. And on that note:off to the movies!!!

Finally, Some Excellent Films, May 19

I had always heard of standing ovations and long applauses after the credits start rolling at screenings at Cannes – and I always thought they were just exaggerations. Well, I’ve finally experienced it, and now I’m a believer!

The new Coen Brothers movie that is premiering at Cannes is a masterpiece and Javier Bardem is letter-perfect in it. This is the best Coen Brothers movie ever. More on this film later.

The second great film I have seen is Bikur Hatizmoret by Eran Kolirin. (That translates to “The Band’s Visit.”) This is a major crowd pleaser, and one of the best foreign films I have seen in a while. It’s about an Egyptian band stranded in a small town in Israel. It’s funny, poignant, and political without hitting you in the head. Its sense of humor and of the absurd reminded me of films by Aki Kaurismaki.

My Tears Dry on Their Own, May 19

Overall, I’m still not impressed with the film selections I have seen. Last night, I sawOlivier Assayas’ latest film – Boarding Gate – starring Michael Madsen and Asia Argento. The movie’s a mess – and I wanted to walk after the first half hour, but I was trapped in the middle of my row with the director in a row behind us. Impossible to walk out. But oh boy, did I want to! What was the plot? Such a mess I can’t bring myself to describe it.

The second film was an interesting disappointment starring Julianne Moore and directed by Tom Kalin, who did a fascinating film called Swoon. His new one Savage Grace is based on a true story about an incestual relationship between a mother and her son. What’s ultimately wrong with the movie is that it’s coy about its subject matter. It tiptoes around the subject, by the time it decides to deal with it head on, I started laughing, and the director cuts abruptly away from the sex scene. It’s like a major tease without any pay-off.

Today at the Pavilion we have the director’s panel moderated by Peter Bart at 4 p.m., and I will hopefully get a chance to see more movies tonight. Weather is still STUNNING! It’s going to be hot and sunny.

Peeping the Party Scene, May 20

So I did a little bit of the schmoozing party scene at Cannes, and I hate to admit that I actually enjoyed myself. Of course, I didn’t start enjoying myself until I had had a couple of vodkas.

First we attended the Variety party at the Hotel Majestic on the Croisette. This was a pretty glamorous affaur, and I was in a pair of jeans and a shirt. Everyone else was in tuxes and evening wear. Robert Koehler of Variety said that it was cool the way I was because I had a tan – whatever!! I still felt out of place.

Carol Marshall poses with actor Malcolm McDowell, from <em>A Clockwork Orange</em>.
Malcolm McDowell

The room was packed by a who’s who of industry and film festival people. Pretty exciting. One of the highlights of the evening was that I recognized a producer, Mike Kaplan, who had been part of my first producer’s panel at SBIFF. He introduced me o the great Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, If, and last year’s Entourage). McDowell was such a sweetheart and we talked for awhile about his movies.

The second highlight was speaking to Mike Lewis from Montecito. He is the CEO of Real D, a company that’s developed 3-D technology. Without me asking, he and his wide slipped me a lanyard to attend a private party for U2. Oh my God!!!

And so off I went to a private U2 party, where I continued with the libations and with the schmoozing. Later in the evening, U2 played a small set, and I went home to bed early because today’s gonna be a very long day.

Get Into the Groove, May 20

My staff at SBIFF will relate to this: It takes a couple of days to get into a groove while working at a film festival. The first couple of days you’re almost shell-shocked, and you’re not able to feel anything in your body – everything feels like an out of body experience. Now imagine going through that experience and adding the fact that you’re in a foreign country with a foreign language and cultural differences. Let’s also add jet-lag, and you will begin to understand how I have been feeling. But today I’m starting to get into a pretty nice groove. I even have that Madonna tune playing in my head: “Get into the groove, you’ve got to prove your love to me:yeah! Music can be such a celebration:.”

I Had the Time of My Life, and I Never Felt this Way Before, May 21

Last night, I experienced something amazing – something I will never be able to forget – and something that will never happen again. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, Gilles Jacob (the head of the Festival) commissioned 33 of past top prize winners to do a three-minute film that expressed his/her vision of cinema – and specifically the movie house.

Carol Marshall and Alanna Kordell kick it Cannes-style.
Jeremy Platt

Before all of the films were shown, there were red carpet arrivals. For this event, I decided to wear my brand new tux, because as I have said earlier, you can’t attend any screenings at the Palais if you’re not wearing a tux. The red carpet was filled with a jaw-dropping array of international actors and directors that left me breathless. I found my heart beating so fast, and found myself slightly jumping up and down with excitement. And in came Claudia Cardinale, Juliette Binoche, Gerard Depardieu, Michel Piccoli, Anook Aimee, Alain Delon, Sharon Stone, Pedro Almodovar, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Cimino, and David Cronenberg among hundreds of others.

The one person that almost made my knees buckle was Roman Polanski. Never in my entire life did I dream that I would ever be in the same room as Roman Polanski. This parade of stars was worth the price of admission alone! Wow!

So we go inside the Palais, the curtains open and there’s a row of movie seats on stage – and all 33 directors are seated there!!!! Oh my God – 33 of the greatest directors, all in a row. Juliette Binoche comes out and explains the evening. The directors take a bow and the movie containing the three minutes of each of their films start rolling.

The standout films were from Lars Von Triers, Takeshi Kitano, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and the best – the most awesome – was by Roman Polanski.

I can’t do justice describing this evening. My heart beats faster just thinking about it. I was crying throughout it all with excitement. Once in a lifetime. Never again. Forever in my heart.

More Moore, May 21, 2007

We have a conversation scheduled this morning with Michael Moore centered around the release of his new documentary about the health care system in the U.S. called Sicko. The conversation is moderated by the great Peter Bart, editor-in-chief of Variety. The event starts at 1:30 p.m. in the Pavilion.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, May 21

I just saw Sicko and it leaves you very emotional. And now I’m dashing to do a Q&A with Michael Moore for students here at the Pavilion (can you believe this?). After that, I have to dash home and change into my tux and go over to the Palais and attend the premiere of Angelina Jolie‘s new film A Mighty Heart. Somebody pinch me, please!!!! Gotta run!

For more, see or tune in later this week to


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